Basic Concepts in Sociology
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| Society

Starting with the basic concepts in sociology, the term “society” refers not to a group of people but to the complete pattern of norms of interaction that arise among them. People are valuable only as agencies of social relationships. A society is intangible; “it is a process rather than a thing, and motion rather than structure.”

The crucial aspects of society are the system of relationships and the pattern of norms of interaction by which the members maintain themselves. Society exists only where social beings “behave” toward one another in ways determined by their recognition of one another.

There is a relationship between a typewriter and a desk, the earth and the sun, fire and smoke, etc. Each of these is affected by the existence of one another, but the relationship is not a social one. There is no intangible sense of awareness between the typewriter and the desk.

Definition of Society

According to F. H. Giddings, “society is the union itself, the organization, the sum of formal relationship in which associating individuals are bound together.”

Similarly, professor Wright defines “society as not a group of people, but it is the system of relationship that exists between the individuals of the group.”

According to Meyer and Page, “society is a system of usages and procedures of authority and mutual aid of many grouping and division, of control of human behavior and liberties. This ever-changing complex system is called a society. It is the network of social relationships, and it is ever-changing.”

Based on these definitions, we may conclude that society is a web of relationships. Society consists of the mutual interactions and interrelations of individuals, but it is also a structure formed by these relations. It is a pattern, a system, and not the people.

Characteristics of Society

  • Society is abstract.
  • Mutual interaction and awareness.
  • Likeness and differences in society.
  • Interdependence.
  • Co-operation and sub-division of labor.
  • Society is dynamic.
  • Permanent institution.
  • Conflict in society.
  • Social control.
  • Liberty.

Types of Society

Societies are classified according to their development and use of technology. For most of human history, people lived in preindustrial societies characterized by limited technology and low production of goods.

After the industrial revolution, many societies based their economies around mechanized labor, leading to greater profits and a trend toward greater social mobility.

At the turn of the new millennium, a new type of society emerged. After this post-industrial, or information age, society is built on digital technology and non-material goods.

Theoretical Perspectives and Society

Emile Durkheim believed that as societies advance, they make the tradition from mechanical to organic solidarity. For Karl Marx, society exists in terms of class conflict.

With the rise of capitalism, workers became alienated from themselves and others in society. Sociologist Max Weber noted that the rationalization of society can be taken to unhealthy extremes.

Social Constructions of Reality

Society is based on the social construction of reality. How we define society influences how society actually is. Likewise, how we see other people influence their actions as well as our actions toward them.

We all take on various roles throughout our lives, and our social interactions depend on what types of roles we assume, who we assume them with, and the scene where the interaction takes place.


| Community

Whenever the members of any group, small or large, live together in such a way that they share not this or that particular interest, but the basic conditions of common life, we call that a group or a community. Inevitably, people who ever any length of time reside in a particular locality should develop, social likeness should have common social ideas, common traditions, and a sense of belonging together.

This fact of social living in a common specific area gives birth to the community. A community is a concentrated settlement of people in a limited territorial area with which they satisfy many of their daily needs through a system of interdependent relationships. A community is a self-conscious social unit and a focus of group identification.

Definition of Community

Bogardus – A community is a social group with some degree of “we feeling” and living in a given area.

Ogburn and Nimkoff – A community is a group or collection of groups that inhabit a locality.

Talcott Pearson – A community is the collectivity of members who share a common terrestrial area as their base of operation of daily activities.

Based on the above definitions, we can conclude the two approaches to the meaning of community. One is a concept of community emphasizing its ecological aspect and others have adopted psychological emphasis in their thinking about the community. The community, therefore, is a group of people who live together and belong together having a common center of interest and activities.

Elements of Community

  • Group of people.
  • Locality.
  • Community sentiments.
  • Stability.
  • Naturality.
  • No legal status.
  • A particular name.


| Culture

The concept of culture is very complex because it is used with different meanings. “Sanskriti” is the Sanskrit term for the English word, “culture”. The word “sanskriti” is derived from “sanskar”, meaning ritual performance.

Culture is an important part of human life. People acquired different types of culture from their ancestors. It is an internal object of human life by which humans become mature. The meaning of culture is the act of refinements in the process of adaptation of social characteristics. All these systems of elements that contribute to making social beings individuals are cultural.

In social anthropology, the word culture means “knowledge” which is about those aspects of humanity that are not natural but are related to that which is acquired. In other words, culture refers to those abilities, norms, and forms of behavior that are acquired by a person as a member of society.

Definition of Culture

According to E. B. Taylor, “the culture of civilization taken in this wide ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, moral law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”

Culture is the expression of our nature in our modes of living and thinking in our every day, inter-course in art, literature, religion recreation, and in enjoyment.

Based on these definitions, we may conclude that culture is an acquired characteristic and these acquired characteristics are passed from one generation to another society and culture are closely related concepts. It refers to the entire complex of what man does and thinks as a member of society.

Types of Culture

  • Material culture
  • Non-material culture

Material culture: All man-made physical objects are considered material culture. It is manufactured and modified by man. It includes technologies, instruments, consumer goods, etc. For example banking systems, currency systems, TV, computer, etc.

Non-material culture: All man-made intangible cultural traits, such as technical skills, norms, knowledge, beliefs, language, attitudes, etc. which are passed down from generation to generation are called non-material culture.

Characteristics of Culture

  • Culture is learned behavior; it is not inherited biologically.
  • Culture is transmissive by the means of reading, writing, and speaking.
  • Culture is social.
  • Culture is dynamic and adaptive.
  • Culture is ideal.
  • Culture is continuous.
  • Culture is symbolic.
  • Culture is super individual and super organic.
  • Language is the main vehicle of culture.
  • Culture is the basic component of shaping personality.
  • Culture is a way of life.

What is Culture?

Though “society” and “culture” are often used interchangeably, they have different meanings. A society is a group of people sharing a community and culture.

Culture generally describes the shared behaviors and beliefs of these people, and includes material and non-material elements. Our experience of cultural differences is influenced by our ethnocentrism and xenocentrism. Sociologists try to practice cultural relativism.

Elements of Culture

A culture consists of many elements, such as the values and beliefs of its society. Culture is also governed by norms, including laws, mores, and folkways. The symbols and language of a society are key to developing and conveying culture.

Theoretical Perspectives on Culture

There are three major theoretical approaches to the interpretation of culture. A functionalist perspective acknowledges that many parts of culture work together as a system to fulfill society’s needs. Functionalists view culture as a reflection of society’s values.

Conflict theorists see culture as inherently unequal, based upon factors like gender, class, race, and age. An interactionist is primarily interested in culture as experienced in the daily interactions between individuals and the symbols that comprise a culture.

Various cultural and sociological occurrences can be explained by these theories; however, there is no such perfect or only one view through which culture can be understood.


| Group

Man is a social animal. He cannot live in isolation. He passes his daily life largely by participating in groups. Therefore, groups mean “any collection of human beings who are brought into a social relationship with one another.”

Society consists of a group, a social group that exists between two or more people, and is in direct or indirect contact and communication.

Definition of Group

H. M. Johnson – A social group is a system of social interaction.

Maciver and Page – Any collection of human beings who are brought into the human relationship with one another.

Ogburn and Nimkoff – Whenever two or more individuals come together and influence one another’s lives, they may be said to constitute a social group.

Based on the above-mentioned definitions, it may be concluded that the social group is a collection of individuals who stand in a regular and relatively permanent relationship.

Characteristics of Group

  • Groups are universal.
  • Groups are the collection of individuals.
  • Mutual awareness and interaction.
  • Sense of “we” feeling.
  • They develop some kind of common interest.
  • Develop similar behavior.
  • Group norms (guided by all three “we feeling”, “common interest”, and “similar behavior”).
  • Group unity and solidarity.
  • Group is dynamic and undergoes constant change.
  • It may be stable or unstable i.e. some groups are permanent while others are relatively temporary.

Types of Group

Groups largely define how we think of ourselves. There are two main types of groups: primary and secondary.

As the name suggests, the primary group is a long-term, complex one. People use groups as standards of comparison to define themselves – both who they are and who they are not. Sometimes groups can be used to exclude people or as a tool that strengthens prejudice.

Group Size and Structure

The size and dynamic of a group significantly affect how members act. Primary groups rarely have formal leaders, although there can be informal leadership. Groups generally are considered large when there are too many members for a simultaneous discussion.

In secondary groups, there are two types of leadership functions, with expressive leaders focused on emotional health and wellness, and instrumental leaders more focused on results. Further, there are different leadership styles: democratic leaders, authoritarian leaders, and laissez-faire leaders.

Within a group, conformity is the extent to which people want to go along with the norm. Several experiments have illustrated how strong the drive to conform can be. It is worth considering real-life examples of how conformity and obedience can lead people to ethically and morally suspect acts.

Formal Organizations

Large organizations fall into three main categories: normative/voluntary, coercive, and utilitarian. We live in a time of contradiction: while the pace of change and technology are requiring people to be more nimble and less bureaucratic in their thinking, large bureaucracies like hospitals, schools, and governments are more hampered than ever by their organizational format.

At the same time, the past few decades have seen the development of a trend to bureaucratize and conventionalize local institutions. Increasingly, main streets across the country resemble each other; instead of “Bob’s Coffee Shop” and “Jane’s Hair salon”, there is a “Dunkin Donuts” and a “Supercuts”. This trend has been the McDonaldization (the notion that quantity equals quality, and that a large amount of product delivered to the customer in a short amount of time is the same as a high-quality product) of society.


| Norms

A norm is the standard of behavior and pattern setting limits an individual’s behavior. It is a group shared expectation. It determines guidelines and controls human behavior.

Norm is a group-shared standard of conduct that maintains social order through the regulation of human behavior. Norms are based on social values which are justified by moral standards.

Definition of Norms

H. M. Johnson – A norm is an abstract pattern held in the mind that sets contains limits for behavior.

Lelie Larson and Garman – Norm is rules developed by a group of people that specify how people must, should, may, should must not behave in various situations.

Based on the above-mentioned definitions, we may conclude that a social norm is a rule or standard of behavior created by regularities of behavior and accepted by society.

Characteristics of Norms

  • Social norms are universal; it is founded in all societies.
  • Norms are relatives to situations and groups.
  • Norms are normally internalized by people.
  • Norms vary in different societies.
  • Guideline for society.
  • No uniformity in the norm.
  • Norms are related to factual (scientific explanation based on fact) order.
  • Social control.
  • Formal and informal.

Some social norms are formal or written; the violator of these kinds of norms will be legally punished by the constitution and different laws of the state.

While some norms are informal and unwritten. It is a kind of traditional. The violator of these norms will also be legally punished.


| Value

In society, our concern is with social values. Social values are cultural standards that indicate the generally deemed variable for organized social life. These are assumptions of what is right and important for society. They provide the ultimate meaning and legitimacy for social arrangement and social behavior.

The term “value” represents constituent parts of social structure. Social values from an important part of the culture as well. The values account for the stability of the social order. For example, sacrifice, service, kindness, freedom, the dignity of labor, customs, social equality, democracy, freedom, etc. are the values of society.

Definition of Value

Leslie, Larson, German – Values are group conceptions of the relative desirability of things.

A value is a belief that something is good and worthwhile. It defines what is worth having and worth striving for. Values provide general guidelines for the behavior of the people. Values represent a wide range of ideas about the ends that men should pursue in their life. The values of a society provide goals or ends for its member to aim for.

Characteristics of Value

  • Social values are collective.
  • Social values are universal.
  • Values are social in nature.
  • Social values are different at different times and in different societies.
  • Values are learned.
  • Values gratify (to fulfill) human beings.
  • Values may conflict with each other.
  • Social values are accepted by most people.
  • Social values are abstract.
  • There is agreement about social values in the group concerned with community welfare and social needs.


| Status

Society is understood in terms of a network of social interaction and interconnection. In any interaction, everybody cannot be expected to respond similarly. Everybody has their own identity even before entering any social situation. The identity of an individual is the society that refers to his/her status.

Status is a term used to designate the comparative amounts of prestige, difference, and respect accorded to persons who have been assigned different roles in a group community.

The status of a person is high if the role is considered important by the group. If the role is regarded as less high, its performer may be accorded lower status. Thus, the status of a person is based on social evaluations.

Definition of Status

Robert Bierstedt – Status is a position in a society or group afforded by group affiliation group membership or group organization.

Duncan Mitchell – Status is a position occupied by a person, family, or kinship group in a social system related to others, it determines rights, duties, and other behaviors.

Characteristics of Status

  • Social status is determined by the socio-culture system.
  • Each individual performs the role of some status in a different way.
  • There are some external symbols to identify the symbols.
  • Every status has its own rights, duties, and obligations.
  • Status is the basis of social satisfaction.
  • Status is governed by the norm. However, some norms are common to all while some are specific and vary with person and situation.
  • An individual may have several statuses.
  • Status differs with the degree of importance. It also differs according to time and space.


| Roles

Human society is the network of the social relationships of its members and their activities. The various need of the members of society can be fulfilled by when they worked together, co-ordination, their talents, abilities and strength, and weakness.

Each individual performs a different function in society. Some are doctors, some are teachers and engineers, and so on. A society can function well if all the individuals do the jobs properly assigned to them. Members of society occupied different places and different responsibilities.

An individual cannot do all the jobs, nor are all the jobs assigned to a single person. Hence, the task performed by an individual makes up for the role is expected to play in society.

A role is a set of expectations that one role cannot be defined without referring to another. There cannot be a parent without a child. In this sense, roles are a series of rights and duties. That is why they represent reciprocal relations among individuals.

Definition of Roles

Young and Mark – A role is a function of status.

Robert Bierstedt – A role is what an individual does in the status he occupies.

Lundberg – The role is a pattern of behavior expected of an individual in a certain group or situation.

Duncan Mitchell – The role is the expected behavior associated with social status.

Based on the above definition, we may conclude that role is the functional aspect of status which is a pattern of behavior expected of an individual in a certain group. Status defines the role. The role is the functional part and status is the position.

Characteristics of Roles

  • Every individual is bound to play certain roles.
  • Role-playing is an obligation for each other.
  • Some roles are shared by many people. For example; teachers, voters, and students.
  • Sole roles are acted or played by very few people.
  • Roles can be voluntary (some rules that we choose to play), and roles can be non-transferable (brother-in-law of the family).


| Ethnicity

An ethnic group is any group of people who set themselves apart from other groups with whom they interact or co-exist in terms of some distinctive criteria such as linguistics, race, culture, etc.

Basically, ethnic groups are considered to be lower than the caste group. To be an ethnic group, there must be two causes. They must be able to differentiate their thinking from another group.

Ethnicity is basically physiological. It is a concept of applying the dichotomy. For example, they can be called ethnic groups if they separate them from other groups.


| Caste

Caste is known as any of the heredity Hindu social classes. It is a corporate social unit that is generally defined by marriage and occupation. Caste is derived from the Spanish word “casta” which means the seed of heredity. Due to caste, Hindus are divided into different categories.

Definition of Caste

C. H. Cooley – When a class is somewhat hereditary, we may call it caste.

Hoebel – Caste is the freezing of social classes using endogamy and heredity to ascribe status.

Maclver and Page – When the status is wholly predetermined so that men are born to their group without any hope of changing it, then the class takes the extreme form of caste.

Characteristics of Caste

  • Hardly changeable, non-transferable.
  • Defined at birth.
  • Restriction on marriage, occupation, and social relationships.
  • It helps in the division of labor.
  • Segmental division of society.
  • Social hereditary.

Merits of Caste

  • Occupational security.
  • Spirit of co-operation.
  • Identification.
  • Endogamy (social purity).
  • Integration of the country.
  • Cultural division.

Demerits of Caste

  • Inequality in society (discrimination).
  • Untouchability.
  • No mobility in occupation.
  • Racial discrimination.
  • Lower position for castes and vice-versa.


| The Implication of Sociological Concepts in Management and Business Administration

The management department should have sound knowledge regarding social forces. It would be better for the administrator if he knows about society and its cultural aspects regarding norms, values, and the entire social milieus which eventually help him to run the organization effectively and smoothly.

Understanding gender issues and their values, caste and class sentiments, and group formations help the organization to run more effective and vibrant way. The modern administrator should be dynamic to know about social diversity, ethnic sentiment, multicultural society and its dynamism, community sentiments, and foundations of social organs.

Sociology provides cosmological knowledge with sets of arguments regarding cultural and societal narratives for the premises of reasons which eventually helps in diagnosing and curing social problems and issues in the organization.

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